#COVID19 Pandemic Is Both a Problem & an Opportunity

Phoenix with no traffic

Inhabitants of Earth are nearly six months into the most disruptive year of our lives, thanks to the novel Coronavirus. The United States was slow to react to the pandemic that had already spread across Asia and Europe and killed thousands. Early denial by leaders in multiple countries– like the US, Brazil, Russia, India, and the UK– has proven deadly for the general population.

As of today, June 14, 2020, there  have been 7,767,336 cases and 429,555 deaths worldwide. Although the US has 4.25% of the world’s population, we have close to 30% of the cases (2,074,526) and 30% of the deaths (115,436).

Those of us who are not essential workers, sheltered in place for roughly two months as states declared public health emergencies to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the virus. We stopped driving and flying. Traffic disappeared — even in Phoenix. Air pollution cleared. We could hear the birds sing. We started walking our dogs regularly. We rediscovered or learned new skills like cooking and sewing and took on home projects that had waited for months or years due to lack of time in our previously harried schedules. Gardeners sprouted all over Tucson, as evidenced by the almost continuous activity on the Tucson Backyard Gardeners Facebook Group. We started making COVID19 masks and giving them away to friends and strangers, alike.  We went to more online meetings than we had ever imagined… and even went to church online… and in most cases it worked just fine. With a dearth of COVID19 information from the government and loads of misinformation on the Internet, we turned to moderated groups like Fear > Facts Tucson Coronavirus Facebook Group for trusted updates. We were separate, but we built community in different ways to stay connected. Did we really need all of the meetings … the events … the driving … the flying … the stress … the missed evenings with family?

Continue reading #COVID19 Pandemic Is Both a Problem & an Opportunity

Is $1 Billion in New Tax Giveaways Too Much? (video)

AZ Tax Breaks

Crossover week– when hundreds of bad bills are pushed through both houses– is always difficult. In addition to four 12-hour days this past week, Democrats had the extra pressure of trying to stop the tax giveaway parade before it dances off the cliff with our state’s future.

I used to call these tax giveaways fiscally irresponsible, but with 18 tax breaks poised to pass the Arizona House and more coming our way from the Senate, we have crossed the line into insanity. Of the 18 tax giveaways, 11 have some cost estimate. Those 11 total close to $500,000 annually in new tax breaks starting next fiscal year; there are another 7 tax breaks with unknown costs. They’re not free; the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (JLBC) doesn’t know how to estimate their cost. You can read more detail about these bills these three articles herehere, and here. With so many unknowns, if they all pass, Arizona could be looking at $1 billion in new tax giveaways (AKA lost revenue) in next fiscal year or in the near future, since several of them automatically increase over time, and it takes a two-thirds majority to repeal any of them.

Continue reading Is $1 Billion in New Tax Giveaways Too Much? (video)

Why Can’t the Ronstadt Center Be an Open-Air Transit & Community Space?

Ronstadt Center, Tucson, 2013

Do you remember the controversy surrounding redevelopment of the Ronstadt Transit Center? Back in 2013-2014, developers were making a play to redevelopment the Ronstadt Transit Center. They had pitched redevelopment of the Ronstadt in the past and failed; the 2013-14 plans revolved around building something on top of the Ronstadt. I mention this ancient history because the Ronstadt redevelopment project– which I mistakenly thought had died a silent death– popped up at a recent Mayor and Council candidate forum as a good idea. Now I realize that demolition of the Ronstadt Transit Center is on the horizon– along with construction of more luxury apartments and yet another “boutique hotel.” Groan. Why are we doing this? Why are we destroying our sense of place and community on Congress Street and 4th Ave. in exchange for big boxy buildings?

The History…

Ronstadt Center, Tucson 2009
During community events like Downtown Saturday Night or the gallery art walks, dancers would perform at the Ronstadt Transit Center (2009).

Old timers like me remember the original design and intent of the Ronstadt Transit Center as not only a transit hub to bring people in and out of downtown but also a community gathering space. In fact, I often wrote about and photographed downtown when I had my writing, photography, and design business in the 1980s and later in the 2000s as a downtown artist. In addition to writing for Dateline Downtown, a weekly downtown newspaper, the Tucson Arts District Partnership was one of my clients. In the 2000s, as Wind Dancer Design, I was a member of Central Arts Gallery, one of the former on Congress Street galleries that were replaced by restaurants and bars.

The low brick walls were designed as benches and gathering spaces around the Ronstadt Center. The rustic brick, custom decorative tiles, and the large decorative brick patio area (with bricks from the Ronstadt Hardware Store, that once stood there) gave the design a sense if place and purpose. Form + function makes for good design. The patio, which had tables at one point, was designed for people to sit while they waited for the bus or had sandwich from one of the restaurants or a food cart set up on the patio.

Continue reading Why Can’t the Ronstadt Center Be an Open-Air Transit & Community Space?

Corporate Tax Giveaways Are Key Issue in LD9 Primary (video)

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley

The choice is clear in the Legislative District 9 primary race.

Do you want more old-school economic development based on corporate tax breaks and sales tax giveaways? You know… the same policies that starved our public education system, left our infrastructure in shambles, forced thousands of Arizonans to live in poverty, destroyed our state budget by giving away billions in taxes each year, and left Tucson with a 25% poverty rate. If you support giving your taxes away and banking on trickle down economics– vote for challenger in the LD9 race.

If you want a leader who will continue to be the voice of the people in the Arizona Legislature, vote to re-elect me– Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley. I have used my voice, my amendments, my votes, and parliamentary procedures to defend the rights of workers, patients, students, teachers, women, and the underserved. In 2017, Progressive Democrats vowed to vote against every corporate tax cut and tax credit bill until public education is fully funded. In 2018, that line in the sand against tax giveaways and for public education funding became the rallying cry for the most Democrats in the Legislature and for the #RedForEd movement. (You can see some of the tax giveaway votes here.) In my opinion, Arizona government should funding the People’s To-Do List– education, healthcare, safety and security, and infrastructure– instead of funding the corporate wish list.

In his recent speech at the Democrats of Greater Tucson (DGT) luncheon, J.P. Martin, who is challenging Dr. Randy Friese and me in the LD9 primary, made it clear that he is the Rio Nuevo Board’s candidate. He even showed their slides when he pitched creating more sales tax giveaway districts (AKA tax increment financing districts, like Rio Nuevo) around Southern Arizona. He says the northwest Tucson malls “need our help” because there are too many empty stores and young people need something to do on the weekend– like go shopping. (You can read about his talk in Tim Steller’s Political Notebook column here.)

I agree that brick and mortar retail is faltering due to increased online sales and a corporate push to reduce labor and overall costs. I disagree that government should incentivize retail shopping with tax dollars. Tax giveaways drain on our state coffers. Arizona is already upside down on its mortgage. The state government gives away or otherwise excuses more than $13 billion in taxes each year and leaves around $10 billion to run the state.

I support taxing digital goods as a way to level the playing field between online purchases, brick and mortar retail stores, and local small businesses. There are multiple proposals floating around to increase sales tax for a variety of reasons. Further increasing sales tax in Pima County would bring our sales tax rate in the neighborhood of 10%. Taxing local purchases but not digital purchases hurts local businesses. Besides leveling the playing field, taxing digital goods would raise hundreds of millions in much-needed revenue for public education, community colleges and the university system, as well as other crucial needs. Sales tax on digital goods is an increasing revenue stream, unlike store-based sales tax.

Retail store sales and related sales tax are declining nationwide, resulting in store closures. This one of my arguments against pinning Tucson’s economic development future on sales tax generation by brick and mortar retail stores in the downtown Rio Nuevo Tax Increment Financing District (TIF).

I want to know what the public’s total investment in every incentive deal– not just Rio Nuevo. Are taxpayers getting our money’s worth? I have heard the rosy projections and seen the slide shows. I want to see the spreadsheets. Perhaps it is my journalistic Spidy sense, but I am a “show me, don’t tell me” person when it comes to giving taxes away. The public has the right to know the bottom line about Rio Nuevo and any economic development project that uses taxpayer money.

DGT hosts a weekly luncheon with a steady cast of candidates rotating through. My last DGT talk was: Economic Development, Access to Care & Workforce Development: A Progressive Roadmap.  Click on the link to read the speech and watch the video. It provides a great contrast to my challenger’s ideas. (Watch the video after the jump. Also, check out research regarding the reality of TIFs around the country. Seriously, Detroit, $16.5 million for a Whole Foods store?)

Continue reading Corporate Tax Giveaways Are Key Issue in LD9 Primary (video)

Do Tax Breaks for Developers & Sports Teams Really Boost the Economy? (video)

support education, not tax giveaways

Today’s video topic is tax giveaways. Do tax breaks for developers, sports teams and big corporations really spur economic development? In Arizona’s 53rd Legislative Session there was a growing bipartisan backlash against tax giveaways (including tax exemptions, tax cuts and tax credits). Many tax giveaway deals died like the capital gains tax cut and the tax exemption for digital goods purchases in 2018 and several corporate welfare bills in 2017.

billionairesAfter all, Arizona state government is giving away or otherwise excusing more than $13 billion in taxes each year and saving only about $10 billion to run the state. The teacher raise was accomplished through 50 fund transfers from one department to another, plus several efficiency savings which transfer programs to other funding sources outside of the general fund. That is no way to run a government.

I stand against the tax giveaways and with #RedForEd. If we ever want to fully fund public education, we have to stop cutting taxes and stop giving tax revenue away.

For this reason, I am a Rio Nuevo skeptic. Rio Nuevo is a $14 million sales tax giveaway that passed in 2018 and was extended to 2035. Rio Nuevo is a tax increment financing district (tif). If you look on the Internet, the jury is out regarding how well tifs work or if they are a good investment of public funds. I have several unanswered questions about Rio Nuevo. What is the total taxpayer investment in each Rio Nuevo project (ie, Rio Nuevo funds, city sales tax rebate, free land, city GPLET deal, Arizona Commerce Authority, and federal incentives)?

Continue reading Do Tax Breaks for Developers & Sports Teams Really Boost the Economy? (video)

2017 Legislative Report Card

Pamela Powers Hannley

In 2016, I ran for the Arizona House on a platform of economic reform, equality, and tackling the opioid epidemic. I stood up to big-money politics and ran as a Clean Elections candidate, despite much advice to take the money and run.

I am honored that you elected me on Nov. 8, 2016. This year in the Legislature, I fought for fairness and stood up for your rights with my voice, my votes, and my bills.

I am running for re-election in 2018. As a Clean Elections candidate, I have pledged not to take big-money donations from special interests. This is my report card to you, the voters of Legislative District 9. It has been an honor to serve you.

Economic Reform & Public Banking 

Continue reading 2017 Legislative Report Card